Photos by Ama Koralage
They gather every Sunday at 4.30 opposite the Healthguard pharmacy on Thimbirigasyaya Road come rain or shine, a band of diehards who have bonded since April 7, 2022 by coming out of their comfort zones to protest against various misdeeds and missteps of the country’s leaders from escalating prices to student arrests, rampant corruption and the Online Safety Act.
It is a silent protest so the posters do the talking, calling for good governance, law and order, equal application of the law, justice, transparency and fundamental rights. It started as a small neighbourhood affair and then expanded in the heat of the uprising. Now it’s back to around 20 regulars who live in the area, including two women from the nearby shantytown. Known as Good Governance Yaya or GGY, it serves as a constant reminder that something is rotten in the state of Sri Lanka.
Unlike at the similar weekly protest at Liberty roundabout, there are no policemen watching over them. Last month those protesters were attacked by thugs who tore down posters and threatened them while the police walked away. GGY was also attacked in November last year by about 40 thugs armed with poles who drove the protestors away and destroyed posters. Despite making police entries and providing video footage with clear visuals of the thugs and their vehicle numbers, no one has been tracked down. A Right to Information request is still unanswered. The group remains unbowed.
“It is harder to label us and because we are ordinary middle class people, it’s more difficult to come at us with tear gas and water cannon,” says one of the main organisers, Chaminda Dias. “Many of us have voted for this president. Now we want him to do what’s right instead of continuing the crony system. It’s a toxic political culture so what we want is system change.”
“None of us have political ambitions. We are just regular citizens who are tired of watching the rulers rob us and take us for idiots. If our parents had come out and spoken like this then maybe we wouldn’t have had to do this. We are doing it for the sake of our children and for the sake of the unborn children,” says GGY regular Christopher Steven.
In addition to the weekly protests, there are roundtable discussions each week where a special guest is invited to discuss the burning topics of the day. So far the speakers have included Harini Amarasuriya, Harsha de Silva, Shanakiyan Rasamanickam, Hejaaz Hizbullah, Prashan de Visser and Swasthika Arulingam. The GGY group regularly joins other protests around the city that call for good governance, accountability and justice. The activities are recorded and posted on their Facebook page.
“We are reluctant activists who didn’t see ourselves being in this space. The aragalaya woke something in us and led to the next step – demanding lasting change that can come from the people. Once your eyes are opened, it is hard to look away,” says Chaminda, pointing out that if justice happened at the right time, there would be no need to deal with issues of accountability and injustice later on.
“We need change if not for us, then for our children. If we give up our constitutional rights, we won’t regain them. People with privilege should speak up for those who can’t,” he points out.
He believes the government is afraid of the protesters because it doesn’t want a repeat of the aragalaya. “There is a groundswell of people becoming politically engaged and demanding change, which is a threat to the incumbent political culture. Our leaders don’t want to change. Studies show that there has been a 10 percent increase in political engagement, so we are at the edge of real change,” he says.
Despite threats, intimidation, attacks and repressive laws, the protesters are adamant that they will carry on. “We will continue although there will be consequences. Obviously we don’t want to keep doing it forever since it upsets people closest to us including our families, friends and children,” says Chaminda.
Groundviews spoke to GGY activists during one of their protests in Thimbirigasyaya.